I am a thirty year old man born and raised in Ireland. You know what they didn’t have in Ireland in the 80’s and 90’s?
That’s right, I called it Ice Hockey.
Ok, they probably did have Ice Hockey in the 80’s and 90’s in Ireland. But you know what, I lived there, and I watched a lot of sports. I watched a ton of soccer. Loads. I watched rugby. I watched tennis, I watched golf, I even watched a little bit of Gaelic Games (a lot more people watched it than I did too). I even think I watched some American Football sometimes! But I didn’t watch Ice Hockey. Because nobody watched Ice Hockey. Didn’t know where to find it, didn’t really know what it was, didn’t really know anything about it except for the occasional computer game that would make it’s way across the pond.
I watched a lot of soccer, all the time. I couldn’t get enough. Our ESPN-equivalent poured significant investment in to marketing and TV deals, which meant the best players started moving to England, and it was on ALL the time. I was an impressionable kid, Ireland’s recent global success on the world football stage was infectious, and I stuck to it like glue. It was entertaining, and important, and social, and fun to play, everything I wanted.
I supported Nottingham Forest, a team located one sea and a 70-minute plane journey from my home town of Dublin, and I supported them for practically no reason at all. When I was seven, I played organized mini-soccer and the team I was put on was Nottingham Forest. Unfortunately for me it coincided with perhaps their final moment of national glory, and they also happened to be grooming Ireland’s next great international soccer star. I say “Unfortunately” because Forest lost the game that happened to be their last final moment of glory, they sold their next great international star, and subsequently went in to a tailspin of many relegations, economic difficulties, and ultimately a twenty-year state of irrelevance from which they still show no sign of overcoming.
It set me up nicely for my move to Toronto in later life.
Growing up around a game such as soccer gives you an understanding of it on a level beyond your own recognition. I’d like to tell you it’s a good thing, but it probably isn’t. You formulate opinions based on the norms you’ve experienced down the years. You spend years and years listening to people’s opinions, either on TV, or your friends, or in the pub, and despite your best efforts some of it sticks in your mind. You form prejudices against players, teams, managers, fans. You get bitter, disenfranchised and cynical about almost everything that happens as money, celebrity and commercialization of the game begins to infiltrate what was once for you a kick around in the park.
So where does Ice Hockey fit in? For me, it didn’t until about 2011. I moved to Toronto at the end of 2008, and being so inclined to watch sports, I obviously picked up that this game was kind of a big deal for Canadians. This would have been around the time the world juniors in 2009 was occurring, and I was taken aback by the interest-levels of Canada’s involved in a Junior tournament. I subsequently went to the Black Bull on Queen Street in Toronto where there so happened to be a game between the home-town team and Montreal. It was interesting to watch for about 30 seconds until I realised that I could not really see the puck.
In early 2009, I can confirm that the Black Bull pub did not have HD Televisions. They have since rectified this situation.
I was greasing the wheels of interest in the game, but was making some rookie errors along the way:
- I kept calling it Ice Hockey. A Canadian work colleague of mind informed me that “Stop calling it Ice Hockey. It’s called Hockey. You sound weird when you say Ice Hockey.” Made sense. Hockey, to me, was the hockey they play without ice, and with a ball, and it was on turf. No, not ball hockey. Forget it…
- My future-wife and I turned up to the Air Canada Center on a game night in early 2009. We innocently walked up to the Ticketmaster booth and I said with a completely straight face “Two tickets for tonight’s game, please!” To be fair to the ticket lady, she at least pretend to check her computer for two tickets side-by-side, and didn’t laugh in my face.
- Such was my interest to tick the Toronto Maple Leafs off my bucket list that I went to the final home game of the 2009 season, a meaningless April game between the Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. I paid $60 Canadian to sit in the worst seat in the house, by myself, for a game that didn’t matter, and to watch players who I didn’t know do things I couldn’t explain. And I didn’t understand Icing.
It was at this stage that I decided that Hockey and I just weren’t going to work out. And that was ok. I still had my European sports to follow, I understood and enjoyed NFL, and basketball seemed a little more digestible. At least I can see the basketball! Hockey was too hard. Everyone in Canada was too far along with the game, they knew too much. They knew what Icing was, they could see the puck, they understood why a team would just slap the puck in to the opposite team’s corner instead of just hold on to it. Furthermore, nobody was going to explain the game to me on television or on podcasts because they didn’t have to, nor should they. The prerogative is on me to learn it, not for them to explain it to me.
Part of my problem, too, was that I didn’t want to be the European Hockey equivalent of the North American Soccer Guy. Man, do I hate that guy. The North American Soccer Guy is the guy who thinks they are an authority on soccer, simply because he is the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I can’t stand listening to that guy because I think he doesn’t understand the game the way I do. I arrogantly disregard what comes out of his mouth because he has a weird North-American twang to the way he says things, and I’m a grizzled European football fan who thinks I’ve seen and lived through it all. I assume he can’t teach me anything about the game because how could he? I’m from Ireland, he’s from North America!
Not good out of me. Not good at all
It’s because of this prejudice that I have made the foundation of this blog around my disclaimer: I may not know what I am talking about. I’m not from around here. I can’t play hockey. I’ve only been watching it for about three years. Heck, I’ve only really been watching the Leafs for about 3 years, so that’s even worse! I don’t know all the players, I don’t understand advanced stats, and although I think I know most of the rules, there’s probably a few I still don’t quite get (like seriously, what’s the deal with the trapezoid?) But what I want to try and bring is a fresh perspective. I don’t think it’s often sports pick up mature fans who are moved by it the way I know I am moved by Hockey. It might not stand for anything, and it might not bring you anything new, but then again sometimes a fresh perspective can go a long way.
After recently attending a Toronto FC soccer match, I decided that how I’ve approached the North American Soccer fan was wrong. They’re enthusiastic, eager and willing to support their team through thick and thin, and there’s a lot to be said for that. I want to bring that to my blog.
But just so you know, I may not have a clue what I’m talking about.